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What is Green Marketing?


The American Marketing Association defines Green Marketing as the marketing of products that are presumed to be environmentally safe.

But, it can be difficult to have an exact definition of green marketing – a quick Google (or Ecosia) search will show you that there are various definitions of green marketing, none of which are officially right or wrong. It’s more of an umbrella concept that involves different approaches – such as improving packaging, the products themselves, advertising practices, and even going so far as to include your digital carbon footprint.

The creation of green marketing

The term green marketing first appeared during the late 1980s as businesses were forced to respond to a changing market and increased consumer discussions about the environment. The change towards green marketing snowballed as a result of the creation of the official April 22nd Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act in 1970, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Keep America Beautiful, created in 1971, was one of the memorable campaigns that introduced this change in marketing practice.

Businesses all over the world began to try and make positive changes and take some responsibility for their effect on the environment.

People were ready to make a change

People were ready to make changes in consumption in the 1990s. During this time The Green Consumer was a bestseller, the Green Party in the UK had the highest vote count, and businesses were starting to respond to the growing call for more sustainable practices.

The number of newspaper print ads featuring more sustainable products quadrupled in the U.S. A survey also found that most multinational European corporations altered their products and systems to be greener. Going green was mainstream!

But, those changes weren’t enough – the 90s also brought about the rise of the Internet, bulk shopping, supersizing fast food portions, and a boom in the number of SUVs. And after the initial green campaigns died down, consumerism and overconsumption only increased and, as we know, are still on the rise today.

Fast forward to 2010 and there was one of many devastating oil spills, resulting in BP funding an estimated $100 million green marketing campaign following the spill. This also resulted in a campaign from Dawn promoting their dish soap as the ‘safe’ choice to clean oil off animals.

Indeed, green marketing has previously been used as a response to environmental catastrophes, and public interest generally ebbed and flowed, depending on the time period. It’s clear that it is a tactic used by big polluting corporations to try and ‘tidy up their mess.’ Now, due to the current environmental situation, green marketing is here to stay and it isn’t just for the companies trying to clean up their act. It’s for all businesses, big and small.

Green marketing and greenwashing

Greenwashing is the act of causing people to believe that your company, product, or service is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. A global review by the CMA found that 40% of online green claims could be misleading consumers. The term greenwashing was originally coined by environmentalist Jay Westerfeld in 1986, where he claimed that the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as a part of an environmental strategy, when in fact it was designed as a cost saving measure.

Many businesses aren’t transparent about their impact on the environment or what they’re doing to improve their sustainability. They might put the claim ‘eco-friendly’ on their packaging but don’t offer any further research or justification as to why the product is eco-friendly. Or, they release a sustainability charter that highlights their commitment to sustainability, without saying what they’re doing to improve their sustainability credentials.

Green marketing starts with companies actually implementing what they say they will – not just talking about greener practices within their marketing messages without taking any action. That’s greenwashing!

Consumers demand greener products

Green marketing is becoming increasingly valuable, as it’s not only a good decision for the environment, but it’s a solid business decision too. Modern consumers (Millennials and Gen Z) tend to prefer organizations that implement green business models, strategies, and practices. In fact, one study highlighted that ninety percent of millennials say they are willing to pay more for products that contain more sustainable ingredients. But this isn’t only reserved for the younger generations: forty-eight percent of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change consumption habits to reduce environmental impact.

The pandemic has also increased awareness of sustainability, and it’s changed consumer habits and attitudes. Most businesses have now adopted at least a recognition of sustainable business practices and acknowledged that there is a crisis happening. A 2020 global survey from a management consultancy firm Accenture said that consumers “have dramatically evolved”, and that 60% were reporting making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. They also mentioned that nine out of 10 of that percentage said they were likely to continue doing so.

According to BBC, the data for the Soil Association in the UK showed that organic sales were due to increase to £2.6bn, a 10-year high.

So, what is green marketing?

We’ve seen over the past 50 years that companies rely on environmentally friendly products, brands, and services and increase brand loyalty by outputting green marketing, so they can gain consumer trust and attention.

Green marketing can therefore be regarded as an umbrella concept that embraces all principles, measures, actions, activities, and strategies of organizations dedicated to fostering the health of the environment and establishing specific green behaviors of mankind.

Concepts such as environmental marketing, environmental protection, non-polluting technology, sustainability, sustainable agriculture, green consumerism, green retailing, socially responsible consumption, green products/brands/services, green technologies, green strategies, recycling, clean energy, and organic food, might therefore be captured by the concept of green marketing and are mostly used to describe green and sustainable strategies.

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